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Democracy versus Distinction: A Study of Omnivorousness in Gourmet Food Writing1

University of Toronto

The American culinary field has experienced a broadening in recent decades. While French food retains high status, gourmet food can now come from a broad range of cuisines. This change mirrors a broadening in other cultural fields labeled “omnivorousness” within the sociology of culture. The authors take gourmet food writing as a case study to understand the rationales underlying omnivorousness. Their findings, based on qualitative and quantitative data, reveal two frames used to valorize a limited number of foods: authenticity and exoticism. These frames resolve a tension between an inclusionary ideology of democratic cultural consumption on the one hand, and an exclusionary ideology of taste and distinction on the other. This article advances our understanding of how cultural consumption sustains status distinctions in the face of eroding boundaries between highbrow and lowbrow culture.